“Ragna!” A crimson spiral built around Eric as he was ready to run to Ragna. He stopped himself, lest he fell over his plateau and glared at the mask.
“What did you do to her?” Altera’s voice distorted to a growl. Furrows drew through her forehead, her pupils dilated, and all light vanished from them. As she widened her arms, ice splinters levitated around her, pointed at Mimir. She crouched her body like a predator. Within an instant, she could jet towards the mask and destroy it with everything she had.
“What a fascinating fire you have there, young woman. Lush like burning roses. You could make good use of it as long as you keep it from consuming you. But never mind that. What I did to Ragna was to confront her with one truth. A scene from the past, she can no longer deny. If she wishes to move forward, then she has to face her sins. So, Ragna Griffin, what will you do?”
What should she do?
Ragna held her palms against her head. With her fingertips, she pressed onto her scalp.
She had murdered a man. It wasn’t a simulation or a game but reality. He was evil, but did he deserve to die? Or even in such a way? She had exploited his weakness and abused it in a cruel display of seduction. And she couldn’t revert it. That man was dead; his life gone.
But Eric and Altera were different. She had harmed them as well, and she had to make up for it. She had to tell them the truth. But what then? Would they hate her? Of course, they would. What she had done was unforgivable, and she deserved it. Yet, the thought of Altera hating her...She didn’t want that. She would tell Eric. With his hatred, she could live. It would hurt. He was her friend as well. But why would losing Altera hurt her more? Would she be willing to keep lying and denying the consequences as long as Altera would stay with her?
Ragna stood up. Eric and Altera looked at her.
“Ragna...Is everything okay?” Altera reached out with her arm. Her posture and face relaxed, and the ice splinters dropped into the water.
Ragna shook her head. “Nothing is. I...I did something horrible.”
No, that wouldn’t be just. She could never become a Valkyrie, she had closed that path, but that didn’t justify keeping Altera in the dark. If she was important to her, then she had to tell her. Altera deserved to know the truth. She had every right to hate her. Yes, anything else was just narcissism. For her sins, she had to endure the hatred of those she loved.
“What do you mean?”
Ragna didn’t reply. She looked at the mask. One half smiled, the other frowned. Tragedy and comedy in one body merged to create a scenario for this fight.
“Mimir.” Ragna put her fist on her chest and exhaled. “Please show them what you showed me.”
“Are you sure? The only requirement for your future journey would be to confront your sins. But only you. Nothing else is necessary. Either way can allow you to continue your journey and reach your destination.”
“How can I confront my actions if I run away from the consequences?”
As this mask showed her, her choices could lead to a happy end or a catastrophe. Whatever would happen, whatever she deserved, she had to face it.
“Very well. I shall comply and fulfill your demands. Eric Mort, Altera Xion. Please witness one sin of Ragna Griffin.”
The mask glowed a second time, and like before, scenes from the past flashed inside Eric’s and Altera’s minds. The events Ragna had made them forget, they would remember. How Ragna seduced and killed Clockwork’s minion, and how she seduced them as well. How she hypnotized and entranced their minds to make them overlook these transgressions. How she forced them to believe all was normal.
“Ah, that explains a few things.” Eric cracked his neck. “No wonder Grendel’s abilities seemed so familiar. Or why he was so into you. You’re two of a kind.”
“Eric, I’m…” Ragna opened her lips, but Eric raised his gun, and Ragna froze.
“Honestly, I couldn’t care less that you put his lights out. If you hadn’t done this, something worse would’ve happened. You would have ended up on the chair or become some breeding slave. Everyone would have done the same. You were desperate, and he wasn’t exactly Mr. Innocent.” The crimson spiral disappeared, and Eric readjusted his hat. “And as for the... Oh, boy. Yeah, that’s messed-up. I…” Eric raised his head. He glanced at the sky before his eyes looked back at Ragna. “Honestly, I’ve… I still can’t wrap my head around it. But after Grendel…Are we better? And you were under stress or shock, and your Fylgja activated. I mean…You clearly weren’t just you.”
“So, the one who fills the emptiness with knowledge and family forgives. What about her? The girl who fills the void with validation and felicity? What will your answer be?”
All three faced Altera.
Ragna had earned Eric’s forgiveness, even if she didn’t deserve it. But Eric’s interpretation of morals fluctuated towards pragmatism. He could understand and overlook the missteps of others. Altera possessed a more rigid system. Whatever judgment Altera would drop, Ragna had to accept it and live with the consequences for the rest of her life.
“I can’t agree with Eric’s words.” With her partisan between her arms, Altera hugged herself and looked down. “Ragna, what you did was wrong. We…can’t just mince it with empty phrases about moral relativism. Where would that lead us? Declaring that from a certain point of view, genocide is okay? Or that Kaiser Wilhelm did nothing wrong?”
Ragna nodded. She lowered her neck, displaying it in front of an imaginary guillotine.
Altera wouldn’t forgive her. Why should she? Unlike her, Altera was good-hearted. The moment she had decided to confess, she had accepted that Altera would loathe her. Yet, her heart throbbed and ached, and her chest became heavy. She was sure if she were to open her mouth, she wouldn’t be able to form a single word.
“But I don’t hate you.”
“Huh?” Ragna raised her head, tears built on the corner of her eyes.
Altera looked at her and tried to smile. “You did something wrong. There’s no point in discussing your actions. But we all make mistakes. Sometimes big ones, but what comes after that? Does that mean you’re irredeemable? Even a monster is allowed to become better. And you’re no monster; you’re just a girl. I won’t abandon you. If you feel lost, I will help you as a…Ehm, as a future Valkyrie, I would fail my duty. I will guide you. You think you can’t be a Valkyrie, but that’s not true. I will help you, and we both will become Valkyries.”
Her saber slipped out of her hands, and Ragna fell on her knees. She looked at her reflection on the ice and wiped away the teardrops.
She didn’t deserve them; neither their forgiveness nor their friendship. But they still stuck with her.
Ragna gulped, and her mouth turned down.
Huh? Why did she feel gloom? They were still her friends. She should jump in joy, but there was something about Altera’s words. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something didn’t feel right. No, they were right, but they…they hurt? But why?
Ragna grabbed her saber and stood up.
Whatever it was, she couldn’t think about it. Not now. At this moment, she had to accept everything. Anything but showing gratitude would be entitlement. And like she said to Altera, she had to focus on the mission. She could ponder about them once they had succeeded.
“Now that this discussion is over, the main spectacle can begin.” Behind the mask, the headless giant had arrived. It floated up and positioned itself above the colossus' neck.
“So, all this stuff about Ragna’s sins was just stalling for time?” Eric raised his eyebrow and unlocked his gun.
“I deemed it necessary that Ragna confronted her transgressions, but yes. I needed time for the fragments of my former self to arrive.”
Altera raised her hand. “If I may ask, Mr. Mimir? How did you know about the hypnosis?”
“Ah, a valid point. As I am part of this…We shall call it 'reality', the tower has provided me with meta knowledge I should not possess. But I believe we have talked enough. Now, let us properly engage in combat.”
The water froze to ice, creating a field atop the sea. Mimir reached out with his arm. Altera widened her wings and flew into the sky. At the same time, Ragna ran forward, and Eric pointed his gun at the giant.